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Refugees’ chief advocate in UN to step down

December 31, 2015 - UNITED NATIONS

Sounding a note of defeat, Antonio Guterres has announced he will step down as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the end of the year.

His most likely replacement is is Filippo Grandi of Italy, the former Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief an Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) from 2010 to 2014 and its Deputy Commissioner-General from 2005 until 2010.

Guterres will use his remaining time at the top to try to rally Europe to find an effective common response to the worst refugee crisis of the era. According to his office, he is not reapplying, and there is unlikely to be a long line of applications for his job under the present circumstances.

Citing figures in August that demonstrate the scale of the crisis, he noted that the numbers demonstrate "that we live in a world in which the capacity to prevent conflicts and to resolve them in a timely fashion is practically non-existent." He asserts that the bloc must mobilize full force for the crisis, calling it a "defining moment."

As High Commissioner, he heads one of the world's foremost humanitarian organizations. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, but has to look at the present refugee crisis as beyond its mission "to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide."

UNHCR has also encouraged more focus on addressing the root causes including more emphasis on political solutions to conflict, better opportunities for refugees in countries neighbouring conflict zones, the provision of safe and legal alternatives to dangerous boat journeys, and strengthened systems for disembarkation and for distinguishing those who are refugees and those who are not.

A former Portuguese politician, Guterres is the 10th head of the UN's refugee agency, which began its work 65 years ago on Dec 14.


UNHCR's Guterres to step down at end of 2015 (Reuters 4 Sep 2015)

As Refugee Tide Mounts, No One Is in Control (Huffington Post 27 Aug 2015)

Date written/update: 2015-09-09